Sunday, 7 June 2009

Mad as a box of frogs

I went to the Liberty 75th Anniversary Conference yesterday, "Common Values in times of Crisis". It was a thought-provoking and very interesting day. The Liberty staff and volunteers had cool t-shirts, designed by Dame Vivian Westwood which read 'I'm not a terrorist, please don't arrest me'. She sat on one of the panels and whilst she had a lot of interesting things to say that I don't disagree with, she does come across as mad as a box of frogs. No one really does mad eccentrics like the Brits!

There were excellent speeches by Lord Bingham of Cornhill on the Human Rights Act and the history of human rights in the UK- the gist being, they're a good thing, the Human Rights Act is a good thing, and getting rid of it wouldn't do much because we're still bound by the European Convention (which British lawyers and law contributed to very significantly so it's downright silly to think of it as a 'foreign' influence)- and Nick Clegg, Shami Chakrabati and many others.

I must say, I've never thought of joining a political party but Mr Clegg just seemed so eminently sensible, and his proposals for legal reform so workable, I am tempted to nail my colours to the mast for once and all, so devoid was his speech of the usual political hyperbole and posturing for posturings sake.

The most impressive person I think, however, was Gareth Pierce. Famed human rights solicitor who's worked on all the big cases and issues you'd care to think about in the last 20, 30 years she has the most remarkable way of speaking. I don't think you'd know her in the street, or to look at her would think anything in particular but she speaks in a very soft, and yet incredibly powerful way.

She was on the panel in the 'Terror' workshop, alongside many other distinguished speakers. In the audience and attending the Conference was a Mahmoud Abu Rideh, who I understand is a client of Gareth Pierce. His story was chilling.

In short he has been held by the government for 8 years now, first in Belmarsh without trial until the Law Lords ruled that unlawful and then under various control orders. He has been hospitalised and terrorised by the experience, and before us was a clearly desperate man.

When he came to the UK, he had a UN travel document as an asylum seeker. The document is no longer valid, because of the passage of time, and despite promises from David Blunkett and Tony Blair to provide him with a new one they have not. The govt have said he will be allowed to leave the country, but still keep him waiting and under house arrest.

No charges have been brought against him, nor has he been told of the evidence against him - this is the nature of the 'civil' Control Order: because it is non-criminal the Police aren't involved and your PACE or Article 6 powers aren't invoked.

I urge you all to write to the new Home Sectretary, Alan Johnson (at the last I heard, anyway) on and ask him to provide Mr Abu Rideh with the travel document he has been promised. I will edit this post to include some more details of his case, but I'm sure that you will want to do your own research. Plug his name into Google and various articles and information will come up.

It's pretty shocking that this regime is allowed to continue- it is executive action in its more brutal and unchecked form. There is no way of challenging a Control Order (detention of less than 14 hours has been held to not constitute a breach of Convention rights). Mr Abu Rideh's children and wife have left the UK, although they are British Citizens because they could not take living in this way any longer. They were not allowed a telephone, internet, visitors, and were subjected to random and indiscriminate searches every few days.

I've posted previously on the Palestine-Israel situation, and my shock at the horrors of life in Gaza. This man is begging to be allowed to leave so that he can go back to Gaza.


Lost said...

Balls... Mel can you remove my name if possible? I signed in with the wrong google account lol

anyways my original post was
I'm not a fan of control orders that in effect don't annul the wrong that you may have committed in the past, it is retributivist punishment, rather you are being punished for anything you may do in the future...

Not good , not good.

Sounded like a very interesting event! I wish I had known about it and had gone!

Mel said...

Done* :)

It was really interesting. Someone said to me - re the control orders - 'they must not be innocent, the government wouldn't hold someone if they didn't have real proof. It's not like the US after all'.

To which I say: the US has constitutional protections in place. We have none - the control orders are civil, not criminal in nature so no due process rights in place. This is Guantanamo bay style legality under our noses!

The Govt have held this guy for 8 years - is that not long enough to put together enough evidence to convict him of anything? Inconceivable.

*But now I know your name :P...except you already know mine so it's not that cool really!

Mel said...

PS - Join Liberty! Then you will find out about events like this, and others.

It's only 12 quid a year for students/unwaged members. Then the annual conference is free- well worth it.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why this guy's Article 6 rights aren't/cannot be invoked. Got it in front of me ... "In the determination of his CIVIL RIGHTS and obligations .. everyone is entitled to a fair & pubic hearing within a reasonable time ... " you know the rest.

I've never been a fan of this government, but I thought that the HRA was a wholly worthwhile addition to the law and would bring a significant improvement in cases like this. Oh well, so much for bringing rights home ...

simply wondered said...

'they must not be innocent, the government wouldn't hold someone if they didn't have real proof. It's not like the US after all'.

i can beat that! someone on the bvc actually said 'it's not as if the police are going to lie so you can accept their evidence'. i hope they don't end up in my chambers.

seriously, i will research this guy; sounds huge!

Mel said...

To be fair, it wasn't someone on the BVC. It was a Canadian guy in IT (don't ask).

Please do - he was Mr A in the House of Lords case!

Law Minx said...

Wow, Mel, the conference sounds as if it was extremely excellent!

Gareth Pierce is absolutely GOBSMACKING, a heroine to all of us who wish to work in the field of human rights. It must have been a true privilage to hear her speak.

I am, needless to say, positively GREEN with envy! :)

(PS: I think word verification on blogger is having one of its senior periods again - 'Arsphol' - O Dear....!!)

Mel said...

It was extremely excellent Minx - it's a shame so much of this stuff is only in London.

Having said that, I think Liberty is too small to run conferences in more than one location - I had no idea that only 23 people work for the organisation! In total! And yet they regularly appear in all the papers, and Shami Chakrabati is the person to go to for responses to human rights stuff. Some great PR work there, and leadership it looks like.

Minxy, has your blog gone private? Can I have an invite, please?